Army photographer takes NATO’s best photo of 2022

If a picture paints a thousand words, how many words is a picture taken at 18,000 feet at the end of a 1,600 mile flight worth?

British Army photographer Corporal (Cpl) Rob Kane’s image of Pathfinders jumping by freefall parachute into Exercise Swift Response has been chosen as the best image taken of the work of the 30-nation strong NATO alliance in 2022.

Pathfinders are the reconnaissance experts for 16 Air Assault Brigade Combat Team, (16 Air Asslt BCT) the British Army’s global response force, and were using High Altitude Low Opening techniques to discreetly drop into multinational manoeuvres in North Macedonia.

To take his winning photo, Cpl Kane had to have specialist medical training and steady nerves to work on the open back ramp of an RAF C-17 Globemaster while breathing through an oxygen feed. 

“I was attached to the aircraft with a tether, but I was just stood there with the Pathfinders for a few minutes looking down 18,000ft and waiting for the right moment for them to jump,” the 35-year-old said.

It was –18C, I’d forgotten my gloves, and I had a camera in each hand with all the right settings selected. Cpl Kane
RLC Photographer

“It was –18C, I’d forgotten my gloves, and I had a camera in each hand with all the right settings selected. I used a high shutter speed for the stills and just kept the video rolling.

“It was a really challenging job, but I’m happy with the output and proud that people like that photo and think it’s worthy of recognition. To me, I was just doing my job as an Army photographer – getting into places that others can’t to take the photos that tell the Army’s story.”

Cpl Kane has been in the Army for 18 years. He originally worked as a recovery mechanic in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers and qualified as a military parachutist, before developing a passion for photography and transferring to become a Royal Logistic Corps photographer in 2018.

“This is the best job I’ve done as a photographer,” he said. “There was every chance that it wouldn’t happen, because there were so many hoops to jump through. The opportunity was offered, and as a former 16 Brigade soldier I had the interest and a head start on the necessary skills to do it.

“There is a level of risk to working at that altitude and I had to have a medical and complete a specialist course to work on oxygen. The course is about understanding the risks of working at altitude, and you are put in low oxygen conditions to get an idea of the symptoms of hypoxia if you become unwell.”

Exercise Swift Response, which took place in April and May, saw more than 3,500 soldiers from eight NATO countries working under the command of 16 Air Asslt BCT to practise how they can respond together to international crises.

Click on the link here to see where Cpl Kane's photo sits in the 73-year history of NATO.